Here are the latest press releases from KTM, Husqvarna and Gas Gas…
It was business as usual for the two lead KTM factory riders, Cyril Despres and Marc Coma, on Tuesday when riders set out for Stage 9 of the Dakar 2012 on a large arc from Antofagasta to Iquique in Chile. Despres, who had a dramatic day on Monday landing in a mud hole, went out like a man possessed, led throughout to claim the stage and reclaim the overall lead.
It was the French rider’s third stage victory in this edition. Coma has won four stages and with Stage 6 scrapped, KTM has claimed seven of eight stages so far. Both riders are chasing their fourth Dakar Rally title and if either of them succeed it will represent KTM’s 11th successive victory.
Despres ended yesterday with a deficit of around 12 minutes after sacrificing the overall lead to Coma. The mud hole turned out to be a natural hazard that occurred after the final official inspection had been done by organisers and was not marked on the road book. Cyril and six other riders got stuck in the mud and race officials decided a detour was in order rather than deal with the obvious chaos. They later reinstated lost time to the riders disadvantaged and when they left on Tuesday Cyril trailed Marc by just over a minute.
It was with this in mind that he put down the hammer and rode with a passion to lead throughout the special. His reward for such a doggedly determined ride was his third stage victory in Dakar 2012 and a narrow lead in the overall standings.
Despres said he was feeling good after the stage. “I had to get back to my winning ways after a difficult day yesterday when you start to doubt. It wasn’t easy to psyche myself up for it but I’m very happy with my day’s work. We came into this looking at a battle for seconds or minutes. It’s very competitive. If you don’t like confrontation or squeezing the last ounces of strength out of yourself then you’re not ready for a fight. But I’m up for it.”
Meanwhile, Coma is very aware that the race is still wide open and he remains cool, strong and ready to apply the necessary tactics. “We knew that this would be difficult today. It was a long special and there was plenty of navigation to deal with. Cyril is a major rival and we do battle over every single kilometre. But I think it’s interesting, its sport.”
Stage 10 takes the Dakar caravan from Iquique to Arica right on the border of Peru. It will be the riders’ last encounter with Chile’s notorious Atacama Desert with another dose of the powder soft and quite treacherous dust. Arica was the most northern point in last year’s rally. But it will not be the end of the sands. This year they continue into the coastal desert of Peru into the region of the famous Nazca Lines, the ancient geoglyphs that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Stage nine of the Dakar 2012 was expected to be a crucial one due to offering the longest special of the rally. The Husqvarna Rallye Team by Speedbrain was not intimidated and enjoyed a great day with Joan Barreda and Paulo Goncalves both finishing inside the top five. Barreda made up a lot of ground in the standings and Goncalves moved up to fourth place overall. Zé Hélio and Jose Manuel Pellicer also improved in the classification.
Barreda started the day ahead of Cyril Despres. He rode the fast opening kilometres alone before Despres caught him. The two formed a pair for most of the remainder of the stage. The young Spaniard was able to benefit a lot from the Frenchman’s experience. Barreda finally ended the day in third.
Paulo Goncalves had an excellent day also. The team changed his engine yesterday as scheduled, just like they did Barreda’s bike. Basically all top teams have this type of service planned or already completed. The Portuguese rode the long stage – which was extended to 600 kilometres – without major complications, arriving at the finish around 15 minutes behind the winner. Despite exhaustion Goncalves eventually had fun during the magnificent descent to Iquique and the ocean.
Joan Barreda: “I’m happy how things went and especially delighted with my error-free off-road navigation. I made up time and places in the overall standings. The bike and team spirit are top-notch.”
Zé Hélio and Jose Manuel Pellicer looked strong all day as well, rounding out an impressive outing for the Husqvarna squad. The team is looking forward to Wednesday’s stage from Iquique to Arica. It should be another challenge with plenty of sand and waves at the beginning.
The only girl among the bikers, Gas Gas rider Laia Sanz faces the rest of the race without her back-up and she is full of confidence in her own abilities.
Laia has recovered well from the blow suffered by the Gas Gas team yesterday when Marc Guasch had to quit the Dakar Rally due to a heavy fall which caused him several broken ribs, a perforated lung and damage to the spleen among other injuries. The Dakar women’s champion had no alternative than to pluck up courage, set aside her worry about her team-mate and face the ninth stage of the rally with steadfastness.
In front of her were 556 kilometres (126 of them cancelled) and, for the first time since the rally began, the only woman still in the race had to face the desert alone and all the possible difficulties which could appear along the way. The girl from Corbera de Llobregat reacted with strength and courage, asserting her character as is normal in a competitor of her stature and gave a great performance in today’s stage, the ninth of the rally. The 11-time Women’s Trial World Champion finished the special in 40th place, her best classification in this Dakar event and in the general she holds position 46.
“It was a very good day because I could ride without anyone in front to bother me, without dust and for 90 per cent of the special I was on my own without seeing a single other bike. It was a fantastic feeling and I also navigated well, without mistakes and with a good safe rhythm.”
The Gas Gas rider also spoke about Marc Guasch but she emphasised that she is resolute in facing the rest of the rally: “I am very sad for him and I’m so sorry about what has happened to him. In terms of the sport his absence is a great loss to the team but I feel very strong and have a lot of confidence in getting through the rest of the race. I am not at all afraid about going on alone. I know my abilities and I will try to get to the finish and to do so in the best place that I can. The only thing that worries me is if something goes wrong and I don’t know how to deal with it, for the rest I am quite calm.”